Chianti Alert

Sangiovese Grosso, Sangiovese Piccolo, Sangioveto ….. is to name just a few of
the aliases for this grape and closely related cultivars; providing the core body
for most Tuscan, blended red wine recipes; still reigning as the most consumed
Italian wines–at home and abroad. Dark-blue-skinned Sangiovese takes its name
from the Latin term Sanguis Jovis (‘blood of Jove’); an exalted reference to both
the elixir’s colour and an esteemed place in Europe’s pantheon of great grape
species: Vitis Vinifera. It’s also the most widely cultivated variety in central Italy,
with prolific vineyards in Lazio, Umbria, Marche and Tuscany combining for 95%
of worldwide plantings–a largely unrivalled dominance of a major grape, sourced
from a single country. Over several hundred years, generations of growers have
steadily built up expertise with ‘San-joh-vay-say’; stewarding these slow ripening
fruit clusters through to balanced maturity is something Tuscans have diligently
become very, very good at!

In the viticultural history of many long-lived old world wine regions, development
of a distinctive wine style that becomes immensely popular, aided by prodigious
yields of grapes that are well-suited to the terroir, adds up to a mixed record of
glory times and a fair share of winemaking folly. The sometimes over-voluminous
output of Tuscany’s Chianti is no exception to the latter. Happily, the decades in
the mid-20th century during which large commercial producers were marketing
far too much unremarkable bulk wine dressed in attractive round-bottom flasks,
swaddled with woven raffia called Fiasco–are long gone. In its 21st century place,
aptly, a renaissance of a different sort is taking place in the baseline of Italianate
winemaking. This time, Tuscany is focused on artfully advancing the competitive
quality across all its grades; from everyday offerings such as charmingly simple
Chianti thru to premium production of Brunello or Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
Too bad about the general demise of the raffia wrapping, it was so rustically and
warmly emblematic of Italy for such a long time!

Among the undulating landscape to the south-west of Florence, the vineyards of
Fattoria Di Piazzano roll down and outward from the tree-ringed hilltop estate:
first established by debutante vintner Otello Bettarini in 1948, then overseen by
nephew Riccardo for a time, and now with another quarter-century of hands-on
experience and investment, the fattoria (farm) under guidance by Rolando, Ilaria
and Michela endures as a Bettarini family affair. This week’s DéClassé featured
bottle of Piazzano Chianti 2013 is evidently one of their entry-level wines from a
very limited release. Nonetheless, this is a delightful, lighter-bodied and youthful
Chianti, displaying an integrated character of savoury earth and still-vibrant fruit.
Generally, exercising restraint in the finishing process of wine displays modern
winemaking wisdom. Here, the straightforward recipe of 80% Sangiovese–likely
from young vine stock–is rounded by a healthy splash of Colorino and Canaiolo.
Exposure to wild yeast and aged briefly in vitrified concrete vats and bottle only,
results in an unfettered, honest and refreshing wine, pleasingly devoid of oak.
Add a $14.95 price-point and you have a winner that will sell quickly. I would buy
many, to fill empty slots in your loose-raffia-lined storage boxes, as the success
of this trial offering will probably prompt a price increase for the next vintage!


VINTAGES – LCBO Product #393199 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 14.95
13.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Tuscany, Italy
By: Societa Agricola Fattoria Di Piazzano
Release Date: October 31, 2015

Tasting Note
This appealingly nimble young wine has a surprising range of the savoury thru to
cherry-driven flavours and aroma expected of Sangiovese. Try serving this with
antipasti, Pappardelle noodles and mushrooms or sausage-stuffed roast pork.

Primitivo Alert

In a period that Roman historians term as Magna Graecia, expansionist Greeks
crossed the westward seas to establish a ring of thriving colonies around the
perimeter of this distinctive land spit; in the modern age it became whimsically
known as either stiletto or heel of the boot. Jutting downwards from mainland
Italy, the southern peninsula of Puglia acts as a geographic divide between the
sheltered Gulf of Taranto and the Otranto Strait of the Adriatic Sea. Throughout
thousands of years in antiquity through to the middle ages, this was a strategic
crossroad of trade and target of conquest for many Mediterranean civilizations.
As a cumulative result, 800km of coast and the parallel line of inland mountains
now serve to frame a hybrid culture; unique within the broad diversity of regional
Italian identities. Though early colonizers seem to have been warlike Spartans,
by the 5th century BCE, it was philosophy that had become the preoccupation in
Greco-Italian centers of learning such as the city of Elea (now Velia). Notably, this
was home to visionary thinker and mentor Parmenides; credited with laying an
influential foundation for Aristotle, Plato and young Socrates. Unsurprisingly, the
wealth of clay Amphorae unearthed from archeological excavation also reveals
that the making of wines and their sea-borne export were well underway!

With naturally fertile reddish-brown soils, Puglia’s flat plains and valleys host a
proverbial abundance of wild rose and berries, rosemary and thyme; punctuated
by stands of stalwart maritime pine. As for the mixed agricultural landscape, the
widespread grain farming and groves of ulivi secolari (centuries-old olive trees)
yields an impressive 50% of Italy’s total pasta and olive oil production. Artichoke,
tomatoes, sheep herding, fish and seafood, and of course grapevines, round out
the bountiful output here.

Curiously, in spite of being so prolific, Puglia remains one of the less-well-known
Italian regions. In its middle and southern provinces, the hot and dry climate is
perfect for cultivating fulsome grapes such as Negroamaro, Malvasia Nera and
Primitivo. With a name derived from several Latin terms loosely translating as
‘the first to ripen’, Primitivo has traditionally been a reliable blending component.
More recently, the variety has gained increased profile as a stand-alone varietal
wine, due in part to the burgeoning popularity of Zinfandel; a clonal relative that
flourishes in Californian vineyards and North American marketplaces. Local lore
suggests that this Italian variant of a Croatian parent grape was discovered by
a 17th century Benedictine monk, Francesco Primicerius, as a wild vine growing
in his monastery gardens. Gradually, cultivars of Primitivo were then proliferated
throughout Puglia, finally rooting in Taranto Province 100 years later.

Home to this week’s DéClassé featured bottle from the Montanaro winemaking
family, the town of Crispiano and surrounding vineyards are proudly becoming
an agrotourism destination in their own right. So much so that these vintners
engaged a landscape architect, Fernando Caruncho, to oversee development of
the property as a garden-vineyard; wherein the undulating waves of vines are
interspersed with 24 islands of 800-year-old olive trees. Compelling aesthetics
aside, their Amastuola Organic Primitivo is a plush, pleasingly rounded example
of how expert that Taranto’s vintners have become in fashioning their local wine.
Budget allowing–half a case would be hard to hold in your cellar for very long!


VINTAGES – LCBO Product #300004 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 15.95
13% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Puglia, Italy
By: Amastuola Societa’S Agricola S.S.
Release Date: October 17, 2015

Tasting Note
A very fruity palate typical of the grape style with aromas of mixed berries, plum,
spice and vanilla. Try with some classic, cool-weather comfort foods like braised
beef brisket, veal scaloppini, pasta Bolognese or eggplant Parmigiano.

Syrah Alert

The central Atacama Desert is distinctively known to climatologists as the driest,
non-polar geography on Earth; desolate and desiccated to such extremes that
it’s biologically sterile, with some zones having never recorded any measurable
rainfall–ever. Here in the northern 3rd of Chile, to an unpractised outside eye, the
cultivating of fruit at the outer fringe of an expanding desertification seems likely
to be a futile exercise? Undaunted, the imaginative and resourceful Chileans are
applying their ancient understanding of the land while also employing innovative
and sustainable techniques such as drip irrigation–to excel in the face of these
challenges. Also blessed with a relatively pest-free environment, they’re naturally
exercising less-invasive, organic and biodynamic farming practices; both healthy
and more economical in terms of production costs. The sum of this viticulture
intelligence is imparting a discernibly fresh character into their premium wines,
while also compellingly demonstrating Chile’s new age, winemaking leadership;
now becoming an additional, largely unrivalled and fruitful export of expertise!

Just southwest of this hostile territory, the Limarí Valley stretches east to west
from the Andean foothills across to the Pacific shore. Open at the seaward end,
the valley acts as a funnel for the low-lying, billowing coastal fog named Garúa or
Camanchaca by the indigenous Aymara and Atacama Indians. In having passed
on the long understood benefits of this climate dynamic, modern descendants
continue to explore and exploit its magical properties both as air-borne irrigation
and air conditioning. Softly blanketing the vine stock with precious moisture each
morning, the fog then gives way to an equally significant cooling breeze later in
the day; providing some critical respite in an otherwise hot, semi-arid landscape;
emerging as one of the most promising of Chilean terroirs.

The growing of vines is not new to Limarí agriculture as some of these vineyards
were established in the mid-16th century; roughly corresponding with the arrival
of Spanish Conquistadors. In more recent ages, the majority of plantings here
are destined to produce table grapes or lesser grades of wine grape suitable for
the distilling of Chile’s trademark brandy, Pisco, also generically referred to as aguardiente (firewater). A quarter century or so on from the introduction in the
1990’s of Noble varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and
Syrah, this maturing vine stock coupled with the savvy of wine makers like the
much heralded Felipe Müller, is now yielding world-class, varietal wine in a range
of accessible price points.

For this week’s DéClassé recommended bottling of Tabali Reserva Syrah 2012,
the fruit is sourced from an alluvial terrace of clay, chalk and limestone silt lying
adjacent to the Limarí River; acting as a conduit for mineral-rich meltwater that
flows downslope from the Andes Mountains. This intriguing and substantial wine
has an appealing balance of tannin structure and softness; helped by a yearlong
maturing in second-use, French oak barrels. This will cellar for some time, but if
you prefer red wines with an acidic brightness—then start drinking immediately!


VINTAGES – LCBO Product #662692 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 14.95
14% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Limari Valley, Chile
By: Vina Tabali
Release Date: October 3, 2015

Tasting Note
This fairly rounded Syrah gives off dark fruit aromas, juicy cherry and black plum
flavours with expected pepper and bitter chocolate notes that define the grape.
Try with roast lamb, braised short rib in leeks or bacon-wrapped tornadoes.